Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 25, 2017)
Based on a novel by Liane Moriarty, 2017’s Big Little Lies offers a “limited run” series from HBO. This Blu-ray set includes all seven of its episodes, and the plot synopses come from the Blu-ray menus.
Somebody’s Dead: “A suspicious death at an elementary school fundraiser draws attention to the frictions among three mothers and their families.”
With an episode like this, we mainly expect exposition, as the show needs to set up the characters and situations. “Dead” does that but it goes farther, so it acts to provide both the needed basics as well as good early development, all of which create intrigue.
Serious Mothering: “Jane (Shailene Woodley) deflects questions from Ziggy (Iain Armitage). Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is outraged over a slight from Renata (Laura Dern). Celeste (Nicole Kidman) suggests she and Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) see a counselor.”
When the series opened, it looked ready to offer little more than a broad parody of modern parenting. Some of that continues to come through, but Lies brings us a more nuanced take than I initially anticipated. “Serious” moves along the characters and circumstances in a dynamic way.
Living the Dream: “Madeline irks Renata. Celeste succumbs to Perry’s charms. Jane opens up to Madeline about her past.”
While prior episodes mixed comedy and drama, “Dream” tends toward a darker feel. Some parts of this work well, but the show drags a little more than I’d like. Still, it moves along events in a satisfactory manner, even if it lacks the entertainment value of its predecessors.
Push Comes to Shove: “Nathan (James Tupper) invites Madeline and Ed (Adam Scott) to a dinner to discuss Abigail (Kathryn Newton). Celeste backs Madeline’s play, despite Perry’s concerns. Jane unlocks a key to her past.”
While “Shove” continues the mostly dramatic tone of the prior episode, it integrates those elements in a superior manner. It moves along character components in a satisfying way as it reminds us of the murder mystery at the series’ core and digs in deeper.
Once Bitten: “Madeline gets encouraging news about the play. Jane is told of the school’s decision about Ziggy. Celeste is put on the spot by her therapist.”
Throughout the series’ first four episodes, the “murder mystery” plot remained more of a subtext than a main domain. As we progress, though, the “whodunnit” – or more appropriately, “who seems capable of doing it” – side heats up, and that becomes a major aspect of “Bitten”. The show balances its hints of psychoses with its character evolution to become another involving program.
Burning Love: “Madeline worries about Jane’s behavior. Jane confronts Renata about a school petition. Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) tells Nathan about Abigail’s secret project.”
Though the main murder mystery resides at the series’ core, I admit I’m more intrigued to know who bullies little Amabella. We don’t get the answer to that, but some developments emerge, and other aspects of “Love” make it a good lead-up to the finale.
You Get What You Need: “Celeste takes steps toward independence. Madeline deals with fallout from her past. Jane learns the identity of the school bully.”
Not only do we learn the latter, but the whole “murder mystery” element wraps up as well. No one will feel surprised by the identity of the victim, but a connection that person shares with another character may shock.
I admit that latter revelation could’ve harpooned the episode, as it feels convenient/gimmicky, but the series’ strengths ensure it doesn’t do damage. Instead, “Need” concludes matters on a powerful note and makes sure that Lies winds up as a terrific drama.